U.S. Moves to Become Global Nuclear Fuel Supplier

WASHINGTON, DC, January 8, 2007 (ENS) - The Bush administration is pressing forward with plans to recycle spent nuclear fuel in the United States and supply nuclear fuel to other countries that refrain from building nuclear enrichment or recycling facilities to make their own nuclear fuel.

The U.S. Department of Energy, DOE, announced Thursday that it intends to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership Initiative, GNEP, promoted by President George W. Bush.

Under the GNEP, the Energy Department proposes to design, build, and operate three facilities in the United States.

A nuclear fuel recycling center would be constructed to separate spent nuclear fuel into reusable and waste components and then manufacture new nuclear fast reactor fuel using the reusable components.

An advanced recycling reactor would be built to destroy long-lived radioactive elements in the new fuel while generating electricity.

And an advanced fuel cycle research facility would be built to explore spent nuclear fuel recycling processes and other advanced nuclear fuel cycles.

Introducing the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, PEIS, on Thursday, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon said, “Our need for nuclear power - a safe, emissions-free and affordable source of energy - has never been greater and GNEP puts us on a path to encourage expansion of domestic and international nuclear energy production while reducing nuclear proliferation risks.”

Spurgeon

U.S. Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy Dennis Spurgeon (Photo courtesy The World Nuclear Association)
Before he joined the Department of Energy, Spurgeon was executive vice president and COO of the publicly traded company USEC Inc. With headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, this global energy company is a supplier of enriched uranium fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.

Through its subsidiary, the United States Enrichment Corporation, USEC operates the only two uranium enrichment facilities in the United States, the gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, Kentucky and Portsmouth, Ohio.

Uranium enrichment is a key step in the production of nuclear fuel used by nuclear power plants worldwide to generate electricity.

The GNEP also includes two international initiatives. First, the United States would supply nuclear fuel services to other countries that decide not to build their own nuclear enrichment or recycling facilities to make nuclear fuel.

The program also would develop proliferation-resistant nuclear power reactors for use in developing economies.

Speaking in Vienna September 19, 2006 at an event called "Assurances of Nuclear Supply and Nonproliferation" hosted by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, Spurgeon said the United States does not intend to impose its nuclear fuel services upon other countries.

"Of course," he said, "each state is free to make its own decisions with respect to nuclear energy policy, consistent with its international obligations."

"Our intent is not to infringe on the sovereignty of states in making those decisions, but to provide alternatives that secure energy supplies and promote our shared nonproliferation goals," said Spurgeon.

Paducah

The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant where uranium is enriched. In 1988, the Kentucky Radiation Control Branch found the radioactive material technetium-99 in private drinking water wells near the plant. In 2003, Kentucky and the Department of Energy signed an agreement to promote accelerated cleanup at the plant. (Photo courtesy KRCEE)
As part of President Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative, the GNEP encourages expansion of domestic and international nuclear energy production.

At the same time, the Energy Department says, the program will help to minimize proliferation risks, and reduce the volume, thermal output, and radiotoxicity of spent nuclear fuel before disposal in a geologic repository.

The Bush administration is still pressing forward to develop the nation's first geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, despite opposition from the Nevada Congressional Delegation, which includes Senator Harry Reid, the new Senate majority leader, who has vowed that the facility will never be built.

Support is growing for the renewed development of the nuclear industry in the United States. In October 2006, the Progressive Policy Institute, which is affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council, issued a report on the energy sources it supports for the 21st century.

Along with support for homegrown biofuels, a cap on carbon emissions and more wind, solar and clean coal, the report, "A Progressive Energy Platform," states, "Expand nuclear power, which produces no greenhouse gas emissions. New plant designs can produce power more safely and economically than first-generation facilities."

Many environmentalists are still opposed to nuclear development. "To call nuclear reactors clean and safe is the height of hypocrisy," said Greenpeace USA spokesman Jim Riccio last April on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. "Unfortunately, nuclear energy will not address our addiction to oil and therefore, it isn’t a viable solution to global warming," said Riccio.

The GNEP Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement will consider a wide range of potential impacts from releases of radioactivity and other hazardous materials to the general population and workers. The PEIS will consider impacts to air and water quality, as well as to plants and animals near the proposed facilities.

Savannah River

The Department of Energy's Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina is being considered to host one or more of the GNEP facilities. (Photo courtesy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)
The PEIS will consider the potential impacts from transportation of the radioactive materials and waste across the United States and around the world and the potential impacts from the treatment, storage, and disposal of these materials.

The potential impacts from accidents, acts of terrorism or sabotage also will be evaluated.

The PEIS will consider adverse effects on low-income and minority populations and the cultural and achaeological concerns of Native Americans.

Also under consideration are the short and long-term land use impacts, long-term health and environmental impacts, site suitability, consumption of natural resources and energy, pollution prevention and waste management practices, as well as potential impacts from decontamination and decommissioning of facilities at the end of their useful lives.

The PEIS will consider 13 sites as possible locations for one or more of the proposed GNEP facilities.

At this time, the following DOE sites are under consideration for the location of a nuclear fuel recycling center and/or an advanced recycling reactor:

In addition, five non-DOE sites also are under consideration for the location of a nuclear fuel recycling center and/or an advanced recycling reactor: DOE is proposing that the advanced fuel cycle research facility be located at a DOE site. Sites under consideration include: To further define the PEIS and identify key issues, the Energy Department is inviting the public to comment on the proposed scope during the 90-day comment period that began December 27, 2006 continues through April 4, 2007. All comments received during the public scoping period will be considered in preparing the GNEP Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.

To encourage public participation in the GNEP PEIS process, the Energy Department will host scoping meetings:

To see the locations and times for the scoping meetings and to read the Federal Register Notice for the GNEP Draft PEIS, click here.

The Energy Department plans to publish the GNEP Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement in 2007 and the GNEP Final PEIS in 2008.

Once it is approved, the Energy Department will announce the availability of the GNEP Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement in the Federal Register and hold public hearings to solicit comments on the GNEP Draft PEIS from federal, state, and local governments, Native American tribes, industry, other organizations, and members of the public.

These comments will be considered and addressed in the GNEP Final PEIS. The Energy Department will issue one or more Records of Decision at least 30 days after publication of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Notice of Availability of the GNEP Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.

For more information on the lease agreement and patent license, access http://www.gnep.gov/.